Service design as a numbers game

Matti Keltanen

“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.” (Pearson’s Law)

Turns out you don’t have to be mathematically inclined to see data as a brilliant design tool.

We recently took on the question “What role does data play in service design?”. Many parts to the answer are already embedded in our work, such as success measures, service metrics and analytics as well as some KPIs, but felt it was worth asking the question again. Our design and consulting teams together dove into exploratory questions such as: what to really make of the buzz around big data (without getting swept up in the hype)? What can we gain from a deeper understanding of economic and demographic landscapes? Or the financial data around industries and companies? What kinds of understanding of the world would inform better and better service design?

There is something in this that may sound antithetical to more romantic notions of design: the lightning in a bottle, the creative leap, the hard-won craft skill, the ineffable. Solutions that transcend their problems. The kind of beautiful elegance you don’t associate with a measure-and-test approach. And sure enough, it’s easy enough to reach too far into design by measurement, such as the famous 41 shades of blue story. And just as surely, that’s not the way to create a completely new solution, to invent. There is always a uniquely human element of judgement, insight, craft and ultimately intuition in design work.

But in addition to all that, data about the world, about the market, about a business, about a product or service — is key to creating systems that live, grow and interact in the world in countless ways. To this end, we developed a model for looking at the context and success of a service business from the global outlook down to the specific, actionable and tactical. It covers various “zoom levels”, each of which informs service creation, measurement or tracking in a different way.

Global level: where is the world headed overall in terms of demographics, economy, and technology in the last few years? What does the spread of relevant markets look for my business now, and where is that outlook headed? These questions inform the broadest context, and set a backdrop for evaluating questions of international reach.

Societal level: what are the cultural, consumer, technology trends and changes in inftrastructure and relevant technology adoption? Again, what’s the current state, where are trends pointing? These questions help define the market.

Industry level: is this industry growing? (Where and why?) Is it monopolistic or fragmented? Are incumbents stable, or is there disruption (smaller upstarts eating incumbents’ lunch?) If there is apparent disruption, what can the numbers tell you about where and how it’s happening? What opportunity does this point to? These questions can help identify opportunities and risks.

Company level: what do a company’s financials and main KPIs tell you about its position, structure and trajectory? Internally – what is the flow of money and resources within a company and how does it track its own progress? These questions inform the business design of a service.

Service and feature levels: Metrics and analytics – who is using my service? Are my improvement efforts paying off? Where am I gaining and losing customers? How? What are they doing? These questions evaluate and shape the development of services.

A design approach to creating anything will inevitably have at its heart the crafting of tangible solutions to complex real-world problems, and that requires creative thinking, craft, expertise and ideas. But measurable evidence informs us about the context, justifies our solutions, and measurement validates ideas. And right in the intersection of successful business and creative solutions, service design must master both approaches.

[special thanks to John Oswald]


Matti Keltanen

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